Nav: Home

Vessel tracking exposes the dark side of trading at sea

July 23, 2018

First ever large-scale analysis of fishing vessel interactions exposes the potential extent of the unmanaged exchange of goods at sea, raising global concerns over illegal fishing and human rights abuses. The study, published in Frontiers in Marine Science, brings transparency to trading at sea. It provides the first ever public view of the extent to which these exchanges could be occurring and exposes the need for a global collaboration to improve fisheries management.

"The practice of transshipment -- refrigerated cargo vessels meeting with fishing boats at sea to exchange seafood, crew, fuel or supplies -- is common in many fisheries as it enables fishing vessels to remain at sea while their catch is taken to market," says Dr Nathan Miller of SkyTruth, USA, who led the study. "However, it lacks uniform regulation and transparent data. This hinders sustainable fisheries management as it makes it very difficult to monitor the amount of marine life being taken from the sea."

The lack of consistent regulation enables illegally caught fish to enter the market. It also creates the opportunity for other illegal activities relating to drugs and even people.

"Some human rights abuses have been associated with transshipment. By allowing fishing vessels to remain at sea for months or even years at a time, captains are able to keep their crew at sea indefinitely, resulting in de facto slavery," say Miller.

The outcomes associated with this poor regulation motivated the researchers from Google, Skytruth and Global Fishing Watch. They wanted to create a transparent and publicly available way of identifying and sharing transshipment behaviors on a global scale.

To do this, the team analyzed over 30 billion vessel tracking signals to identify potential transshipment encounters. This included refrigerated cargo vessels loitering at sea long enough to receive a transshipment, or two vessels in close proximity long enough to transfer catch, crew or supplies.

"Our research is unique in its scale, but also in that we use a big data technology platform and satellite tracking data to provide the first public view of the potential extent of global transshipment," says Miller.

Analysis of the data showed that transshipment activities occur on a global scale, yet some areas had particularly high activity.

"Transshipment activities were observed in all ocean basins, but were most common in international waters," says Miller. "Nearly half of the events we tracked occur on the high seas and involve vessels that are registered in countries which may differ from the vessel's owner and provide minimal oversight. This means that a vessel may be held to less strict standards and regulations than its home country would require."

"The prevalence of events outside of national waters in much of the world is juxtaposed by the prevalence of events in Russian waters, as well as those involving foreign vessels within the waters of western African nations," says Miller. "While the activities within Russian waters predominate, the activities within the waters of western African nations are of considerable concern."

As could be expected with such a large dataset, the limitations of the data also need to be taken into consideration before conclusions should be drawn.

"The use of the vessel tracking system, from which we derived these data, varies globally and among fleets. Operators can turn off the tracking device or broadcast incorrect identity information and crowded regions of the ocean can affect tracking accuracy. However, we can account for these limitations and our results change only modestly if we alter the parameters," says Miller.

Overall, the results suggest that many transshipment events occur beyond any nation's jurisdiction, where the monitoring and regulation of fishing activity is limited.

The team hope their research will act as a starting point to encourage a more transparent and sustainable fishing practice.

"We hope our results will expose the potential association of transshipment with illegal fishing and other criminal activities, as well as stimulate discussion on sustainability and management of high seas fishing," says Miller. "Tackling the sustainability and human rights problems associated with transshipment at sea will require global perspective and cooperation."
-end-
To access the freely available data online visit http://globalfishingwatch.org/datasets-and-code/

Please include a link to the original research article in your reporting: https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fmars.2018.00240/full

Frontiers is an award-winning Open Science platform and leading open-access scholarly publisher. Our mission is to make high-quality, peer-reviewed research articles rapidly and freely available to everybody in the world, thereby accelerating scientific and technological innovation, societal progress and economic growth. For more information, visit http://www.frontiersin.org and follow @Frontiersin on Twitter.

Frontiers

Related Fisheries Articles:

Study champions inland fisheries as rural nutrition hero
Researchers from MSU and the FAO synthesize new data and assessment methods to show how freshwater fish feed poor rural populations in many areas of the world.
For global fisheries, it's a small world after all
Even though many nations manage their fish stocks as if they were local resources, marine fisheries and fish populations are a single, highly interconnected and globally shared resource, a new study emphasizes.
New study maps how ocean currents connect the world's fisheries
It's a small world after all -- especially when it comes to marine fisheries, with a new study revealing they form a single network, with over $10 billion worth of fish each year being caught in a country other than the one in which it spawned.
Federal subsidies for US commercial fisheries should be rejected
A pending rule change proposed by the US National Marine Fisheries Service would allow the use of public funds to underwrite low-interest loans for the construction of new commercial fishing vessels.
Sustainable fisheries and conservation policy
There are roughly five times as many recreational fishers as commercial fishers throughout the world.
For the fisheries of the future, some species are in hot water
Some fisheries may falter while others could become more productive as the world's waters continue to warm, according to a new study, which looks to the productivity of fisheries in the past to help predict the impact of climate change on future fisheries.
'Dead zone' volume more important than area to fish, fisheries
A new study suggests that measuring the volume rather than the area of the Gulf of Mexico's dead zone is more appropriate for monitoring its effects on marine organisms.
Study: Aquaculture does little, if anything, to conserve wild fisheries
New research finds that aquaculture, or fish farming, does not help conserve wild fisheries.
Industrial fisheries are starving seabirds all around the world
Industrial fisheries are starving seabirds like penguins and terns by competing for the same prey sources.
Too many fishers in the sea: The economic ceiling of artisanal fisheries
Researchers from Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California San Diego and the University of British Columbia found that even if fishers used the most efficient and sustainable known practices, they wouldn't generate enough revenue to maintain a living above poverty level.
More Fisheries News and Fisheries Current Events

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Rethinking Anger
Anger is universal and complex: it can be quiet, festering, justified, vengeful, and destructive. This hour, TED speakers explore the many sides of anger, why we need it, and who's allowed to feel it. Guests include psychologists Ryan Martin and Russell Kolts, writer Soraya Chemaly, former talk radio host Lisa Fritsch, and business professor Dan Moshavi.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#538 Nobels and Astrophysics
This week we start with this year's physics Nobel Prize awarded to Jim Peebles, Michel Mayor, and Didier Queloz and finish with a discussion of the Nobel Prizes as a way to award and highlight important science. Are they still relevant? When science breakthroughs are built on the backs of hundreds -- and sometimes thousands -- of people's hard work, how do you pick just three to highlight? Join host Rachelle Saunders and astrophysicist, author, and science communicator Ethan Siegel for their chat about astrophysics and Nobel Prizes.